Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Senior Advisers Move on, but Are Never More Than a Phone Call Away

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Senior Advisers Move on, but Are Never More Than a Phone Call Away

Article excerpt

Though exhausted and eager for new careers, President Barack Obama's advisers plan to create an ad hoc support group for the boss they are leaving behind.

When President Barack Obama offered a tongue-in-cheek lament last week that he was "getting kind of lonely in this big house," he was referring to his two daughters, who he said were less eager to hang out with their dad as they grew older.

But Mr. Obama might just as well have been talking about the fraternity of middle-aged political advisers who have been at his side since before the 2008 campaign and who are finally moving on. Exhausted and eager for new careers, they nevertheless plan to create an ad hoc support group for the boss they are leaving behind.

"It's something we've thought about a lot," said David Axelrod, one of Mr. Obama's most trusted political aides, who returned to the Obama fold to advise on the re-election campaign and is now off to start an institute for politics at the University of Chicago. "Presidents need to have people with longstanding relationships around them," he said, "because the instinct most people have with the president is to be deferential to a fault."

For the first time since Mr. Obama became president, none of his Big Three political counselors -- Mr. Axelrod, David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs -- will be working in the White House. Now they are in the top rank of Obama alumni, a status that confers benefits of its own.

Mr. Obama still has trusted aides around him, including Valerie Jarrett, a family friend from Chicago; Denis R. McDonough, a veteran of 2008, who is moving up to chief of staff; and Alyssa Mastromonaco and Pete Rouse, two of his longest-serving staff members. "We're strategically spaced out," said Benjamin J. Rhodes, who wrote foreign-policy speeches in 2008 and is a deputy national security adviser.

But reaching some of his oldest and closest confidants will now require a phone call, rather than simply a knock on their West Wing office doors. And that is where Anita Decker Breckenridge comes in.

Ms. Decker Breckenridge, 34, sits a few steps outside the Oval Office and is a master of the Obama Rolodex. She ran his downstate Illinois office when he was in the U.S. Senate. Her only moment in the limelight came when the White House confirmed that she, like Warren E. Buffett's secretary, paid a higher tax rate in 2011 than her boss.

That year, Mr. Obama asked Ms. Decker Breckenridge to be his personal aide, a position that doubles as his gatekeeper. She met Mr. Obama nearly a decade ago and knows instinctively whom he does, and does not, want to hear from.

"Loyalty and trust mean everything," she said in a weekend interview. "He is someone who has always valued long and old friendships."

And she can find any of his old friends on short notice, particularly in the late-night hours when he likes to talk on the phone. …

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